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Served Up Short with a Side of Gore

April 7, 2010

Let me get right to the point this week. The horror genre is best read as a short story or novella. Unfortunately, the publishing industry doesn’t seem to agree with me. Case in point, Stephen King’s long drawn out horror novels like It.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of Mr. King and consider him a master of horror in his older, shorter works. And, he’s certainly not the only author who’s written a looonnngggg horror novel I didn’t enjoy. I’m also a huge fan of Clive Barker, but after suffering through The Great and Secret Show, I won’t pick up another one of his longer novels.

I read and write horror for the shock and gore factor. Isn’t that the point of the genre? To make the reader squirm? Over four-hundred pages of background details, character development, subplots, and love stories are just a waste of time if everyone is going to die a gruesome and tormented death in the end.

Looking back at my reading history, I remember a specific childhood trip to the library, where I happened upon collections of short ghost stories for young adults. I sat with the first book, eyes glued to the pages, start to finish, frightened to the bone. I read through every book in the collection with equal fervor. Those books fed my addiction to horror, and ever since, I’ve sought out short fiction that‘s equally chilling. Poe was one of my favorites as a teen and today my favorite short horror author is Ramsey Campbell, but there are so many other collections by various authors I can’t resist. Unfortunately, more often than not, you end up with an anthology of the really good with the really bad.

Thanks to my freshman high school English teacher, I later found myself addicted to writing horror. Amazing woman put up with my horrific short stories. While everyone else wrote about their lovely Christmas holidays, I handed in a short story about Mrs. Clause beating Santa to death with a frozen turkey, after he arrived home late to Christmas dinner. It wasn’t exactly an original idea if you remember an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, Lamb to the Slaughter. In the show, the wife kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, then feeds the cooked lamb to the police officers investigating his murder. Hey, we all gotta start writing somewhere.

I still write a lot of short horror stories. I especially like to take a break from a novel, during the onset of an over-thinking rut, to torture a few people in a flash fiction tale. Or, take a step back and write my entire novel in 50 words, a little trick I learned from Gaynor Stenson, the publisher I interviewed here a couple weeks ago. Over at Vamplit Writers, she challenged us to write horrific fifty word stories. Here’s the one I wrote for The Courier.

    Unable to hold down a job, Barry acquiesces to serve Satan for a lifelong paycheck. Soon overcome with remorse, he seeks a way to resign, but the only possible escape is through the lesser of two evils. In the end, he’s still held accountable.

It’s a constant work in progress. I spent a half hour updating it just to present it here, and still hate it. Reads too much like a pitch.

So I challenge you to warm up for the short story contest by leaving a 50 word story in the comments here today. Doesn’t have to be horror.

Don’t forget to drop by my Writer Wednesday Blog Tour

42 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2010 9:59 am

    Hi Wendy

    Great post and maybe that should be another purpose for writing 50 word flash fiction, to practice writing pitches.

    On short horror stories I think reading horror is so much better in shorter format. Shadow Storms by Johnny Shadow is a great example of this each story is short and has an immediate impact. A great writer can give a character life in one simple sentence and have a greater impact in 10,000 words then they would 100,000.

    • April 7, 2010 10:15 am

      Loved Shadow Storms!! Night Write mentioned he’s working on a new book. Can’t wait to read it! He’s quickly becoming a master of short fiction.

      • April 7, 2010 3:17 pm

        One of the problems with full time editing is that I lose touch with people day to day I keep meaning to email him to catch up. I’ve read a couple of his new stories and to be honest they are even better you would love them Wendy very dark, but vivid and alive.

  2. April 7, 2010 10:53 am

    Wow – talk about a challenge! I’ve never done a 50-word short story piece, but when we talk about what I’ve still to try in writing the list is quite long. 😉

    Here goes, an no laughing if it sucks:

    Lush and skillful, the enforcer kills with no remorse. Always drawn to death’s sweet embrace, she delivers yet another into its suffocating hold. Her sword bites deep, a whisper of sound escapes, and silence prevails. She bends to drink. No undead who preys on children can hide from Vivian’s wrath.

    Whew! Exactly 50 words! Okay fellow W W’s, if my punctuation is wrong, please feel free to edit my reply – you all know I suck at comma placement!

    Great post Wendy, the challenge got my creative juices flowing.

    • April 7, 2010 2:02 pm

      Awesome story!! Can we publish it at http://vamplit.com, or should we contact your agent 😉

      • April 7, 2010 2:59 pm

        Smarty pants!! 😀

        By all means, if you think it’s good enough, please publish it on Vamplit, I’d be honored. I’ve been meaning to get more involved on the site, I’ve just been juggling a lot of balls in the air right now.

      • April 7, 2010 3:38 pm

        LOL! Thought you might enjoy that comment. Will let you know when it’s published.

    • April 7, 2010 3:12 pm

      I love it CJ and isn’t it fun to write?

    • April 10, 2010 8:46 pm

      I would love to put your 50 Word Flash Fiction on vamplit.com I will let Wendy send it to me and then let you have the link. You really got the point of the exercise, to get as much information as you can in 50 words. I know I got a story for yours.

  3. April 7, 2010 1:11 pm

    This sounded like fun and a good warm-up writing exercise.

    Here’s my contribution. Please don’t laugh too loudly. 🙂

    Panic crushed brittle ribs, pierced aching lungs. A strangled gasp escaped her bruised throat moments before algae-caked water seeped into a slack mouth, stung nose and eyes. In excruciating slow motion, the pond closed over her head. As consciousness faded, she prayed her killer would stop. She’d changed her mind.

    • April 7, 2010 3:01 pm

      Nicely done! No laughing needed! I think drowning freaks lots of people out, add to it a forced one and a changed mind and… brrr…

    • April 7, 2010 3:14 pm

      Hi Pamela I really loved that twist at the end. Great piece of flash fiction.

      • April 7, 2010 3:41 pm

        Yes it is! We should publish this one too, Gaynor over at vamplit.com. Interested Pamela?

    • April 7, 2010 6:55 pm

      Wow, chiming in late here, but that IS good! Way to go, Pamela!

      • April 7, 2010 7:21 pm

        Thanks! Speaking of late, I forgot to mention “Lamb to the Slaughter” is one of my favorite stories. Read it when I was younger. (If my parents had any idea…) LOL Also saw the Hitchcock version.

        Enjoy Stephen King, too. The Shining ranks as one of my all-time favorite horror novels.

        Thanks for the follow on my blog. 🙂

  4. April 7, 2010 4:00 pm

    Oh, wow. Thank you for the nice comments. By all means, publish away. 🙂 I’ve never checked out vamplit.com. Sounds interesting.

    C.J., I think you should expand yours into a novel. I’m a sucker for sharp, pointy objects. LOL

    • April 7, 2010 4:23 pm

      Very kind of you, Pamela! Vivian is the MC in my series and her past will be the focus of the fourth book. Considering I’m still on book two, I’m guessing it’s about a year down the line.

  5. knoxkp permalink
    April 7, 2010 4:01 pm

    He didn’t think.
    He didn’t think there was anything in the cold-room attached to his garage and lowered his boy, Scott, into the recess so he could climb in through the window. The door had been stuck shut for years. The shriek that followed killed him. He climbed down and in himself.
    He didn’t think.

    So I went over 50 words! Deny me your prizes (heh!) if you must but that was as short as I could make that very nasty idea inspired by the noises coming from my cold-room at night. Eeeek!

    • April 7, 2010 4:24 pm

      Brr… another chiller!

    • April 7, 2010 5:05 pm

      Yeah, I’d say he didn’t think. Awesome!! Another short for vamplit.com??

      • knoxkp permalink
        April 7, 2010 6:33 pm

        Another short for vamplit.com??

        Sure!

    • April 10, 2010 8:49 pm

      I hope so I really enjoyed it even if it broke the golden rule of 50 words, sometime rules are meant to be ignored.

      • knoxkp permalink
        April 11, 2010 2:23 am

        So do I wander over to vamplit and submit,or do you go ahead and post? You have my permission.

        I enjoyed the exercise and result and am going to use it as the framework for a short gothic tale.

  6. April 7, 2010 4:39 pm

    Lamb To the Slaughter is my all-time favorite short story! Funny how it was written by a noted children’s author, Roald Dahl (though I think that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a bit gruesome!) I didn’t know Hitchcock had made it into a tv show, though I’m not surprised. More Spinned Against by John Windam (Day of the Triffids and Village of the Damned author) is my second favorite.

    • April 7, 2010 5:10 pm

      Barbara Bel Geddes is so classically evil in the tale. I could watch it over and over again.

  7. Michelle P permalink
    April 7, 2010 7:55 pm

    After she heard his scream her mind raced back to all those horror movies she had seen as a teenager. She couldn’t stay here in the tent, not in these dark woods, not now. She unzipped the tent. His masked face and machete were forever imprinted on her dead cornea.

  8. Shawn Micallef permalink
    April 7, 2010 7:58 pm

    Ok time to stop just reading the occasional post and to put some comments. Plus just finished writing over 1400 words for a writing group. So here goes……

    The eyes had become a dark murky black. No sound from the creature came. It sat there staring down at me from the high point. A simple leap and life would be over. No where to run, or hide. I awaited my inevitable doom. Then it happened. It spoke: MEOW.

    • Michelle P permalink
      April 7, 2010 8:49 pm

      That one was great… very unexpected and funny ending!!!

    • April 7, 2010 9:07 pm

      LOVE IT! You really built it up and twisted the end. Mind if we publish it on vamplit.com?

      • Shawn Micallef permalink
        April 7, 2010 9:20 pm

        Glad you liked and no problem on publishing it. I’d be honored.

        Oh and I have to add I had some GREAT inspiration for the story. I wrote it as my black cat was sitting on the top of my printer at my Computer Desk. He was staring out the window but still thought it would be a great short short. 😉

      • April 10, 2010 8:55 pm

        I don’t know about you Wendy but these are all really great and I love the ones that have a twist. I am in awe of anyone who can get an effective twist in 50 words.

      • April 11, 2010 8:21 pm

        Absolutely agree, Gaynor. Can’t wait to see them over at the ezine.

  9. Michelle P permalink
    April 7, 2010 8:48 pm

    Here’s another try…

    Looking down on herself she wondered why she did it. It left a real mess behind, splattered brains and other bodily fluids. The landlord really wouldn’t be happy about it. She thought there was supposed to be a white light but all she saw were smokey shadows. Eerily lurking closer.

    • April 7, 2010 9:09 pm

      COOL! Splattered brains. Love your last line! Can we publish it on vamplit.com?

      • Michelle P permalink
        April 7, 2010 9:28 pm

        Absolutely… this was a fun “assignment.” I’d really like if you published it.

    • April 10, 2010 8:52 pm

      Your flash fiction had everything for me I saw the bedsit and the grubby landlord and then the twist. Great piece of fiction writing.

  10. April 8, 2010 7:03 am

    Your post brought me back to the first short stories I ever read. (Ah! The memories!) They were in an anthology of mixed genre. There were two that stood out; one a horror story, about a three inns on a desolate moor. I think the inns were called The Traveller’s Head, The Traveller’s Bones, and the Traveller’s Rest! I cannot remember the title, the author or the anthology it was in. But the plot has stuck with me a lifetime!

    And as for flash fiction? I wouldn’t know where to start! 🙂

    • April 8, 2010 8:55 am

      I love those stories that stick with ya! That’s why I sometimes wait a few weeks to review a book. I may not of liked it initially, but if it sicks with me, it forms a whole new opinion.

      Venturing into flash fiction was the smartest thing I ever did. Before I tried my pen at it, I tended towards long winded writing with too many side stories. It really taught me to keep to the point of the story.

      • April 8, 2010 12:11 pm

        I agree to a point, but some of those side stories can work!

        Take a look at Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children – its the richness of his side stories that create the book.

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